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Some Classical Liberal Priors

In my latest column for AIER, I list 20 of my priors. A slice:

10. Official power over others – that is, the ability to initiate coercion without incurring the disapproval of society – is, for those who hold such power, intoxicating. Holding and exercising official power is less a “public service” and more a personal and almost vulgar thrill.

11. Those persons who will most eagerly and ably seek official power – those who will most successfully seek to be in positions to initiate coercion – will be those persons who have the fewest qualms about imposing their wills on others. That is, holders of official power will be disproportionately drawn from the ranks of predators and the officious.

12. Most of what is done by modern states is done through the initiation of coercion. This reality is no less true in stable democracies, such as the United States, than in authoritarian hellholes, such as Venezuela.

13. Modern society – including, of course, the economy – is inconceivably complex.

14. Social and economic complexity arises and grows only insofar as individuals are free to act peacefully as they choose – that is, are free to act peacefully without worrying that coercion will be initiated against them.

15. Initiating coercion with the intent to improve society or the economy will inevitably unleash consequences unintended by the initiators and unforeseen by those who encourage such use of coercion.

16. Unaware of unintended consequences, those who initiate coercion to improve society are too likely to make matters worse rather than better.

17. Self-interest, creativity, and competition within private-property-based markets are very robust. Opportunities to gain will eventually, although never instantaneously, be sought out and exploited. The economist’s short-hand way of expressing this prior is that twenty-dollar bills do not long remain laying on the sidewalk for the taking.

18. Individuals who stand to reap personal benefits by exploiting opportunities to gain are much more likely to seek out or to notice such opportunities – and to exploit these opportunities as effectively as possible – than are individuals who do not stand to reap personal benefits by doing so. One important implication is that whenever a politician, pundit, preacher, or professor insists that the state should initiate coercion to ‘solve’ some alleged ‘problem,’ that person is highly likely to be mistaken.

19. Each person is less willing to take some action the greater are the costs to that person of taking that action and the fewer are the benefits to that person of taking that action.

20. Other than breathable air and gravity, nothing in this world that is of use to humans is free. Getting more of one thing always requires getting less of some other thing or things.